NORWALK, Calif. (AP) — A Southern California gang member has been convicted of first-degree murder in the killing of a rival whose death authorities say was immortalized in an elaborate tattoo of the crime scene on the gangster's chest.
Anthony Garcia, 25, was found guilty Wednesday in the death of John Juarez, 23, outside a liquor store in Pico Rivera on Jan. 23, 2004. The case had turned cold until a Los Angeles County investigator spotted a photo of Garcia's tattoo and recognized the crime scene because he had visited it as a station sergeant in the Los Angeles-area city.
The tattoo, which stretches from Garcia's neck to his chest and from arm to arm, showed particulars of the scene, including Christmas lights on the store's roof, a street sign and a bent street lamp.
Sheriff's homicide investigator Kevin Lloyd was looking at photos of tattooed gang members four years after the killing when he came across Garcia's tattoo and recognized the crime scene.
It showed the victim, a member of the Pico Nuevo gang, as a peanut, a word deputies say is derisively used to describe rival gang members. The store had "liquor" written across the top. Above the scene, in bold ink, were the words "Rivera Kills," a reference to Garcia's Rivera 13 gang.
"I worked Pico Rivera a lot of years, so I'm pretty familiar with that area," Lloyd told the Los Angeles Times. "It was incredible."
The tattoo was photographed by deputies in Pico Rivera after Garcia was booked for investigation of driving with a suspended license in 2008.
Robert Guaderrama, Garcia's public defender, did not immediately return a call left for him Friday. He refused to speak to media after the verdict, according to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.
Authorities routinely take photos of gang member tattoos to help with identifying suspects in gang-related crimes.
Gang members also sometimes get tattoos to bolster their street credentials, such as sketches of prisons where they've been incarcerated or gang references on their heads and torsos, homicide Lt. Dave Dolson said.
Garcia's tattoo was different though. "I haven't seen it before, and I haven't heard of anything like it either," Dolson said.
Garcia was arrested in October 2008, and authorities say he later confessed to detectives who were working undercover at the jail.
Capt. Mike Parker said Garcia's body art acted as a confession and he marveled that the stroke of luck involved in the case.
"He tattooed his confession on his chest. You have a degree of fate with this," Parker said. "The detective who spotted it had been a Pico sergeant who went on to become a homicide sergeant. I never worked Pico station. I never would have recognized that Pico liquor store."
Records show Juarez was standing by pay phones outside the liquor store when two men walked up to him, asked where he was from and shot several times. The gunmen fled in a waiting pickup.
A second gunman hasn't been charged, but Robert Armijo, 28, of Pico Rivera, has pleaded guilty to assault with a firearm and voluntary manslaughter. He faces 20 years in prison when he is sentenced on May 3.